👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ The number of confirmed U.S. deaths from Covid-19 surpassed 600,000 – 15 months since the onset of the pandemic. The U.S. Covid-19 death toll is more than 200 times higher than the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, and higher than the number of American soldiers killed in combat during the Vietnam War, World War I, and World War II combined. The U.S., however, is now averaging 375 deaths per day – down from more than 3,000 per day in January and reaching their lowest point since March 2020 – due to the availability of effective vaccines. More than half of the U.S. population has received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine and 43% of the population is fully vaccinated. The White House, meanwhile, plans to host a July 4th “independence from virus” bash as the CDC declared the so-called delta variant, which was first detected in India, a “variant of concern.” The delta variant accounts for 9.9% of cases in the U.S. (ABC News / Wall Street Journal / Associated Press / NBC News / NPR / CNN / Axios)
2/ A National Institutes of Health study suggests that the coronavirus may have been circulating in the U.S. as early as Dec. 24, 2019 – weeks before the first confirmed infection in the country. Nine people who had donated blood between Jan. 2 and March 18, 2020, tested positive for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, according to the NIH report. (Washington Post / New York Times)
3/ The FBI warned lawmakers that QAnon “digital soldiers” could be compelled to shift “towards engaging in real-world violence” as they come to “no longer ‘trust the plan.’” Instead of abandoning the conspiracy theory after QAnon predictions failed to materialize, a FBI threat assessment concludes that followers might seek to harm “perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition” as they take control of the movement. “The participation of some domestic violent extremists who are also self-identified QAnon adherents in the violent siege of the U.S. Capitol on 6 January underscores how the current environment likely will continue to act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action,” the unclassified FBI assessment says. (CNN / New York Times)
4/ The White House released a national strategy devoted to addressing domestic terrorism. The 32-page strategy calls for increased funding for the Justice Department and FBI to hire analysts, investigators, and prosecutors; improving information-sharing between the federal government and state and local partners as well as with social media companies; and addressing the long-term drivers of domestic terrorism, such as systemic racism. “We cannot ignore this threat or wish it away,” Biden said in the document’s introduction. “Preventing domestic terrorism and reducing the factors that fuel it demand a multifaceted response across the federal government and beyond.” (NBC News / Washington Post / New York Times / Bloomberg / Wall Street Journal)
5/ Trump pressured top Justice Department officials to challenge his election loss to Biden, and investigate debunked conspiracy theories and baseless claims of voter fraud. According to emails sent between December 2020 and early January, Trump and his aides – including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows – pressured then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to investigate unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election had been stolen. The documents, released by the House Oversight Committee, also detail how an hour before Trump announced that William Barr would be stepping down as attorney general, Trump and his staff began pressuring Rosen – Barr’s eventual replacement – to embrace Trump’s claims of voter fraud and have the Justice Department investigate them. The House Oversight and Reform Committee have asked Meadows and several former Justice Department officials to testify about efforts to advance unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. (New York Times / Washington Post / NPR / Bloomberg / Associated Press / Politico / Wall Street Journal / CNN / Axios / CNBC)
6/ A federal judge will allow the Justice Department to keep secret part of the memo used to back then-Attorney General William Barr’s decision not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. Judge Amy Berman Jackson previously ordered the Justice Department to release the entire memo used in March 2019 to justify not charging Trump, accusing Barr of misleading the court about Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia investigation. While Attorney General Merrick Garland has already released Section I of the memo, the Justice Department asked to appeal the release of the memo’s Section II. Jackson agreed to allow the Justice Department to keep Section II secret while they appeal. (CNN)
7/ The Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals in a 53-44 vote. Jackson is the first Black woman confirmed to an appellate court in a decade and is one of five Black female circuit court judges currently serving. She fills the vacancy left by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who served on the bench for 24 years. Jackson is considered a top contender to be appointed to the Supreme Court. (Washington Post / ABC News)
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